Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium is home to the Louisville Cardinals football program and was one of the last college venues built in the 20th century, replacing the aging Cardinal Stadium at the Fairgrounds. The stadium originally seated 42,000 upon its opening in 1998, but has since expanded to 55,000 to accommodate the success of the football program.
Originally built at a cost of $63 million, it fulfilled a dream that was first envisioned by former Cardinal Coach Howard Schnellenberger in 1985. It was then renovated during the off season of 2008-2009 at a cost of $72 million that saw the inclusion of an elevated south-end terrace connecting the east and west sides of the stadium, 33 additional suites, 1,725 additional club seats, and an additional 13,000 chairback seats.
Upon its completion, the program rose from mediocrity to a football powerhouse. Where would the Cardinal football program be without the facility, one could only theorize, but Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium has been an integral part to the success and evolution of the football team. The games are sold out, and the team battles for conference titles and has appeared in nine bowl games in the stadium’s first 15 seasons. There had only been two bowl appearances the previous 15 years.
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There are plenty of food choices inside the stadium that should appeal to all taste buds. To start off with you can find a personal pizza from Papa John's ($7.50). The Fischer's concession stand offers hot dogs ($4.25), hot dog nacho ($8), and super nachos ($6.25). There are cheesesteaks sandwiches for $6.50, cheesesteak nachos ($8), and bratwurst ($6).
Mixed drinks ($6.25), beer ($6.00 - $6.75), and wine ($6.50) are available as well. If you are a fan of the other white meat, one concession booth sells all pork products that include a pork chop sandwich ($7.50), barbecue sandwich ($6.50), baked country ham ($6.50), and pork burger for ($6.50). There is also kettle corn and lemonade stands throughout the main concourse. For dessert there are waffle cone banana splits ($7), sundaes, ($4.50), the crunch zone float (red cream soda and vanilla ice cream), and on those cold fall nights, you can grab a cup of hot chocolate ($3).
The folks at the U of L do a very nice job of creating a college town atmosphere in the major city of Louisville. The various lots surrounding the stadium and beyond are packed with revelers grilling, drinking, tossing the pigskin, and preparing for the game. The adjacent lots are close to the stadium and feature the red press row of what is called The Card March and a collection of completely furnished train cabooses that can be rented on game day.
Throughout the area the marching band is preparing for the contest, cheerleaders are greeting cars in the lots, and a few folks strike up conversations waiting in line for portable toilets. Fans also may park a bit further away from the main lots, creating a sea of red for a mile all around Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
I love Louisville and its many neighborhoods, but when you are at a Cardinal game you are somewhat removed from these areas. The area around the stadium borders the various sports facilities of the university, the state fairgrounds, and the interstate. It is a safe neighborhood that swells in population before and after football contests. However, one will need to hop in their car and visit a few personal favorite spots in downtown and Bardstown Road.
If you find yourself in downtown, you are within walking distance of 4th Street Live that offers bars, restaurants and dance clubs under a covered, pedestrian street. Many, if not all, of the establishments are chain franchises, but Gordon Biersch, and Tengo Sed Cantina are fun places to end your night after the game. If you are in the mood for dancing, then head upstairs to The Marquee Bar or PBR Louisville.
A few miles down the road, a little more eclectic selection of cuisine can be found on Bardstown Road. Enjoy a great California Common Beer at the Cumberland Brewery, enjoy great barbecue at Mark's Feed Store Bar-B-Que, simple grilled cheese sandwiches at Tom+Chee, or Thai/Vietnamese fare at La Que. There are also many great small bars, pizza shops, and mom and pop stores along this road as well. If you haven't been to Louisville, allow yourself plenty of extra time to explore this wonderful city.
The Cardinal faithful do not stand out as being much different from the rest of the college football world. There are a few traditions that include a chant on every first down, and the Card March is two hours prior to kick-off with both players and coaches greeted by fans as they walk through the tunnel leading to the stadium. The marching band plays an array of fight songs to welcome the team. It is hard to spot a person not wearing a red shirt or jacket and the place is packed for home football games.
The stadium is located almost directly off the interstate with plenty of signs to get you there. Arrive early though, since traffic can build up upon entering the exit ramp. Congestion can commence 2-3 hours before kickoff. Traffic does move slow and steady, but start looking for parking lots as soon as you can find a spot. The first few will start at $5, but they quickly rise to $10 and eventually $25 at the stadium lot. If you are tight with your money like me, park for five bucks and walk the quarter of a mile to the stadium. You will get some insight to the atmosphere and a healthy walk back to shake off the calories from the food inside the stadium after the game. If you do not mind paying more to park, you will find ample private lots within easy walking distance from the stadium.
Tickets are a premium and depending on the game can range from as low as $13 to as high as $166. I think somewhere in the middle would provide a suitable return on investment for high level college football and a world class arena.
The drink and food selection at the stadium is top notch and reasonable in price. I almost felt as if I was at a minor league ballpark with the concession choices from pork sandwiches to cheesesteak nachos. If you leave hungry, do not blame the university.
Be sure to stop by the Schellenberger complex to see the Johnny Unitas statue. Unitas is the most famous player in Louisville's football history, and his number 16 has been retired.
One final point for the Louisville athletic department which has devoted considerable resources in helping make Louisville much more than just a basketball school.
A great college game day experience awaits everyone at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Like bourbon sitting in a charred-oak barrel, the experience should improve as time marches on. Louisville is a great city to visit without football, but made just a little bit better when a Cardinals football home game is played in the fall.
Since 1998, Papa John's Cardinal Stadium has served as the home to the University of Louisville Cardinal's football team. Its construction and subsequent opening was greeted with a warm welcome as Old Cardinal Stadium was starting to show its age. The Cardinals originally elected to name the facility after its predecessor, and then tacked on Papa John's once Papa John's founder John Schnatter, a native of nearby Jeffersonville, Indiana, donated $5 million.
Since the stadium was built, the Cardinals have watched their football program take a drastic rise to the top. Due to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, the Cardinals were able to generate funding to improve both their football facilities as well as their athletic department in general. As a result, U of L was able to upgrade from Conference USA to the Big East Conference in 2005. In 2007, the Cardinals appeared in and won the Orange Bowl, an accomplishment that previously wouldn't have been possible in Conference USA.
With the overwhelming success of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, the Cardinals decided to expand the facility from 2008 to 2010 to increase capacity from 42,000 to 55,000 seats. The expansion entailed adding an upper level and 33 suites to the east side of the stadium. Currently, Papa John's Cardinal Stadium is about 92% full on the average game day.
One of the premier aspects of the design is its history with the land which originally was the South Louisville Rail Yard, a historic rail car repair shop. The factory's shift horn was saved and installed in the stadium's north end zone scoreboard and sounds every time the Cardinals score. There are also multiple cabooses that tailgaters can rent on game days.
One of the best close to campus (might as well be on campus) stadiums around. There is not a bad seat in the house and the fans are on the TRAIN. One of the nicest places to watch a game period. Every seat has a seat back, all 58k of them. Two large jumbotrons and a nice mid level terrace. Just a good job all around. Did I say beer and mixed drinks as well?
PPJ is a nice, functional stadium, but I didn't see anything special about it. It's disconnected from the campus, bordered on the east by an interstate, and the road along side it is rather dreary.
My lower level corner seats were so far away from the action, I didn't feel part of it. The Cardinals were having a down year, so the fans were very quiet and began leaving after half time, despite the close game. This was interesting because they didn't stop arriving until the end of the first quarter.
I parked fairly far away from the stadium and it was a good 20 minute walk.
Great atmosphere and stadium has extremely good sight lines, meaning there really isn't a bad seat.
Physically, the stadium is very nice. Chairback seats throughout the stadium make it comfortable and the sight lines are excellent. there are literally countless concessions, but that is an issue. If you're looking for a party, thisis a great facility. If you want to watch football, it's just boring. The fans are incredibly intoxicated, show up late, never leave teh bars and "club" like areas, and have little interest in the product on the field. It's like a strange social gathering for area residents.
It's also not in a nice area of the town. I moved here two years ago, and the area around the campus and the stadium is generally considered dangerous, run-down, and frightening by most city residents.
So, again, the phyical structure is a fine, if uninspiring stadium compared to some of hte calssic or large stadiums of power programs. But the atmosphere lags considerably behind that of most serious college programs.
Crowds sometimes show up late and leave early depending on opponent, but the crowd is amazing for big games. Easily accessible and not a bad seat in the house.
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